SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S. and South Korea on Tuesday kicked off a two-day joint naval drill that includes two U.S. destroyers and several South Korean vessels.
The USS Mustin and the USS John McCain, each with about 280 personnel, are participating off South Korea’s eastern coast. Commander Naval Forces Korea spokesman Lt. Arlo Abrahamson said the exercise includes anti-submarine warfare training, communication drills, ship maneuvers and liaison officer exchanges.
“Some of it they’ve done ashore, and some of it they do at sea,” he said.
The South Korean destroyer Gwanggaeto, a submarine, anti-submarine aircraft and two helicopters are also taking part, according to a South Korean navy spokesman, who said the exercise is meant to reinforce the allies’ readiness posture against North Korea, which is believed to have some 70 submarines.
He would not disclose the number of South Korean troops involved in the exercise.
Both militaries described the drill as routine training and unrelated to a report that North Korea is trying to increase its submarine capabilities.
Meanwhile, South Korea has announced the creation of a new submarine command that will fall under the command of a two-star general and will include nine 1,200-ton and four 1,800-ton subs, plus five more 1,800-ton submarines that are scheduled to be built by 2018, the South Korean spokesman said.
The U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins University reported last week on its website 38 North that recent satellite imagery shows a North Korean submarine that may be outfitted with launch tubes for ballistic or cruise missiles, a development that could eventually give Pyongyang’s weaponry a wider range.
“Submarines carrying land-attack missiles would be challenging to locate and track, would be mobile assets able to attack from any direction, and could operate at significant distances from the Korean Peninsula,” the website said.
Imagery collected during the last six months also shows that the North has been readying a naval shipyard for “a significant naval construction program” that could be submarine-related.
During a visit to Seoul last month, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said the U.S. will increase its naval capabilities in the Pacific as a deterrent to North Korean provocations, according to Yonhap News.
“The concerns are that the North will take some provocative actions that will allow the situation to get out of control,” Mabus was quoted as saying.
“There will be more ships to be in this region to do exercise to hopefully deter any sort of actions and to make sure that we are ready for working with the Republic of Korea,” he added.